This week I sat down with Austin Rosenthal, who heads operations and sales for Lionize, an influencer marketing platform/services company helping agencies deliver white-label influencer marketing services and clients with their direct influencer marketing campaigns. We discuss the power of influencer marketing, and how you can effectively integrate results-oriented campaigns that actually deliver.
Learn more about Austin and Lionize at www.lionize.ai
Learn more about Socialistics at www.socialistics.com
Jason Yormark: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Socialistics social Media agency Stories. I am Jason Yormark, owner and founder of Socialistics and your pilot for the Socialistics podcast. Excited about our guest today. We’ve had a little bit of history. We’ve had some conversations and talked to all things influencers and what they’re doing with that from a technology and a service standpoint. So we’re going to be talking today to Austin Rosenthal, who is with Lionize, which was formerly Digital Presence. That’s a recent rebrand. So I’m sure he’ll talk about that. But Austin, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.
Austin Rosenthal: Thank you. I’m glad to be on. I’m really excited to have this conversation with you.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Well, let’s learn a little bit more about you. Tell me a little bit about your career trajectory and how Lionize came to be.
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah. Absolutely. So the idea snowballed into what it is today over the past two years and kind of initially started in the influencer creator world as an influencer and creator and started understanding the pain points that advertisers and marketers were experiencing when trying to execute an influencer marketing program at scale. So what myself and two of the other co founders came up with is just a very simple, streamlined, three step process for marketers and advertisers to build their teams of influencers. And yeah, we just rebranded from Digital Presence to Lionize. We kind of started off about two years ago as more of an agency like company, really to Peel back all the layers of how to do this appropriately. And now we’re transitioning into more of a software development company, which is really what stems or is the true reason for us rebranding.
Jason Yormark: got you. So at a high level, just kind of break down for me, what does Lionize do? And what does it do? Who stands to benefit from it? And what are those benefits look like?
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah. Absolutely. So we really work hand in hand with either brands or agencies, particularly in their marketing departments. And our users are generally the marketers and advertisers that are the ones that are responsible for actually seeing through the execution of an influencer creative marketing program. So we usually kind of tailor or at least build to the requirements of those individuals and the pain points that they’re experiencing. And really, what it is at its core is a hybrid job recruitment tool similar to ZipRecruiter. And then on the back end, a matchmaking tool for advertisers to build out their team, Select Deny, and then the platform handles all of the back end reporting, payment, facilitating of the rest of the whole process.
Jason Yormark: Got you. No. I love that. As a client or an agency works with you just from a high level, like there’s a lot of businesses or even just people personally, that influencer becomes just kind of like a cringe kind of word. You kind of see the over the top totally influencers in the world that really isn’t reality. And that’s the connection they make in their head in terms of what an influencer is. There’s this reality of this whole other world of folks that actually are authentic and in specific niches. So dive in a little bit more as to what does a business stand to really benefit from when they actually are using influencer marketing effectively?
Austin Rosenthal: I think you actually just harped on the most important piece, which is there’s this world that is unknown of social profiles, no matter who you are, you have some sort of influence. And the way that we use this word influencer isn’t your traditional 50,000 100,000 plus followers. We actually see more value in building out larger teams, taking more of a network approach as Nano micro influencers that have really captured an audience that trusts them and doesn’t necessarily always look to them for promoting a brand or a product or a service. And it comes off when you’re working with individuals like that as a much more authentic and organic Advertisement or push of the product or service.
Jason Yormark: How do you guys bridge the gap? How do you help companies find these sorts of folks and facilitate those relationships? Like, what is that engagement look like?
Austin Rosenthal: Totally. So we ended up actually building what is essentially a job recruitment platform that baked within it has a head Hunter search engine that takes all of the parameters of who your ideal influencer is and how we’re incentivizing them and what’s required of them to do and goes out into the ecosystem of social and starts building out a candidate list specific to that program, and then the technology on the back end is all smart things like deciding whether you are an appropriate person to ultimately reach out to, and then what our system does is it reaches out to them with the job opportunity and promotes the campaign and allows them the option to ultimately opt into the project and become a representative of the brand.
Jason Yormark: I love that. So is it safe to say that your offering kind of takes the heavy lifting off of let’s talk strictly from an agency standpoint. A lot of people that listen to this either own agencies are thinking about it and (full disclosure) we’re considering and tried to work with you guys and certainly have plans on doing that. So I’m no stranger to it. But I think for our audiences sake, is it really turnkey there’s little that you have to worry about when working with what you guys have built?
Austin Rosenthal: Totally. And I mean that’s exactly what we knew the market wanted, which is simplification when it comes to executing a campaign that has a lot of complexities in it like this. So what we ended up doing was breaking the process down into onboarding where a dedicated account manager will work with the brand or the agency to gather all of the requirements of what constitutes success up front. And once we gather that information. It is just an automated approach there on out where the technology takes over all the head hunting, the communication, the tracking, the reporting, the payment facilitation. So it’s truly the upfront lift where we actually help you and more of a white glove managed service capacity, since we know how to kind of construct these programs. So we help you upfront, and then we kick off the program and then really the responsibility of the brand or the marketers on the back end, as all of these applicants come rolling in, you just have to have to select or deny the team that you ultimately want to kind of go out and have advocating your friend, the folks that you’re working with.
Jason Yormark: Do you find that this is the first time dipping their toe in influencer marketing? Have they done it before? What’s the mix of folks that you’ve come across so far?
Austin Rosenthal: It’s really a broad spectrum, which is great because we’ve been able to build out the platform for people that are very inexperienced, and we’ve built it in a way that we can handle you throughout the process, whereas we’re also working with brands and agencies that are very well versed in the world of influencer marketing, and they don’t necessarily need the guidance that we can provide for people that are inexperienced. But the platform helps both in the same exact way that it just automates all of the manual nuances that traditionally an account manager is tasked or plagued with.
Jason Yormark: Got you. So if I’m an agency owner, what are some things that should be, let’s say, social media or digital marketing generalist, whatever. But I’m interested in being able to offer influencer marketing to my clients, but maybe it’s not something I want to build internally. What are some advice that you would give to an agency who’s thinking to go down that path? Like, how should they be thinking about that? How should they be positioning it? How should they be communicating it to their existing or potential clients as a viable strategic move for them from a marketing standpoint?
Austin Rosenthal: Right. And what I’ll say is what you’re able to do through the platform is take this walk before you run approach, and you can go out and identify different types of influencers. And the way that the platform is built is that at least if I was going out and launching a brand and wanting to use this as a channel, I would start targeting the smaller profiles to try to find the right fit of who you want, ultimately backing you. And I think the way in which that we position the platform, it shouldn’t be necessarily preventative or too cost preventative in terms of being able to execute a full blown influencer marketing campaign at scale and generally starting on attracting smaller sized talent and then being a little bit more strategic and dumping more and more dollars into having larger profiles represent you.
Jason Yormark: Yeah. I agreed with you when you talked about like those the micro influencer world or the folks that have maybe a little bit smaller audience but really have built trust. And it’s an engaged audience. That’s definitely where I see the opportunities that exist for most businesses, in your opinion, what makes an effective influencer?
Austin Rosenthal: I think there are really two sides to it right there’s the creative, which is what you are looking to either repurpose as a brand and be able to re utilize because there’s obviously a cost savings there and not having to go out and hire photographers to create your content that you can use in other social efforts. So high quality content is one of the most important things in finding quality influencer and then obviously the traffic that they drive to, whatever the call to action is. So whether they’re getting high engagement, if they’re getting high conversions of whatever that looks like for your specific project. So I like to kind of analyze an influencer on both sides, and the platform really helps you do that in terms of seeing the creative understanding, the creative, owning the creative and repurposing it, and then also seeing the traffic that they drive to, whatever the effort is got you.
Jason Yormark: Okay. Now on the flip side, what makes a crappy influencer or somebody that is all sizzle and no steak?
Austin Rosenthal: Yes. At the end of the day, it’s not very difficult to weed that out in terms of you have 100,000 followers and you’re getting 100 people to like your photo. Clearly, there’s something a little off about that and then also frequency of posting number of brands that you’ve represented or worked with in the past to show some brand affinity. Also the very basic or minimum requirements. Do you have a profile picture? Have you posted more than five times? Are you checking all of these boxes to ensure that this is someone that you do want to be an extension of your brand and kind of representing you and vouching for you as a company got you.
Jason Yormark: I’m curious just a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur. You just recently went through a rebrand. So let’s start there. What drove that? The why and how you kind of went about going down that path?
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah. It was really two years ago that we came up with a concept that has spiraled into what it is today. And we were really an agency at our core where we had to understand, get our hands dirty, go in, run our campaigns in a more manual capacity to use tools that were out there, see how our users would want to interact, the level of control they wanted on the back end and level of customization they wanted on the front end. And we used this past year or so to gather information and do market research. And then over the past six months, we really pivoted into becoming more of a software development company and digital presence kind of gave us off this feel of being still an agency in short, and what we wanted to now come off of is more of a strong software development powerhouse, but we also didn’t want to lose essentially the Z, in the words. So we went from digital prezence with a Z to lionize with a and then to capital off the true meaning of Lionize means to make someone feel like a celebrity, which just fits the mode of what we’re looking to achieve here.
Jason Yormark: I love that. One of the things that is interesting to me is agencies that pivot into software or technology was that driven out of a desire to do that initially or did the work that you were doing just kind of push you in that direction?
Austin Rosenthal: I think it was, and I can’t take the credit on being technical by any means and being the engineer that powers this engine. But I think it comes when you look at businesses and building out business models. The ability to scale is much easier when you’re building out a rinse and repeat system and process that everybody can use, whereas sometimes more of an agency approach is a little bit more customized and tailored to specific project needs, and a lot more creative and independent work is needed there. But at the end of the day, it’s the team that allows you to kind of make a pivot like that. And between the two other cofounders, one being the CTO, the other being the CEO, and having a data background and a software development background extensively has afforded us the ability to kind of surround ourselves with the right team in order to kind of build this into reality.
Jason Yormark: Tell me a little bit more about that team. What’s the makeup of your team? Your company, were you virtual pre pandemic? Did the pandemic kind of continue to keep you there and you’re going to stick with it? Tell me a little bit more about that dynamic.
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah. So we officially formed a company to a little over two years ago where I left my full time job and just started poking around, seeing what this whole influencer marketing world was all about, seeing that there was a market for it. And I ended up being able to work alongside with one of the other co founders, Chris, who met the first day of College at Wake Forest and kind of gravitated to each other knowing that we wanted to do something special. And he’s actually the one that came to me with a lot of the knowledge when it comes to being an influencer and a creator and where money is going and how it’s going and how to communicate effectively, two brands and two influencers. So we have this foundational information on how to do this. And then what we really needed was to add the third most integral piece of the puzzle, which is our CTO that could build out scalable platform experiences, essentially. And he’s actually a very good friend of mine. Family friend. We kind of grew up together and our lives all intermingled and kind of came together there to start this. And then we have another team of about five now, primarily on the engineering side, a couple on the business side. But we really approach this as more of a family unit, as opposed to not necessarily not a professional setting. But that’s just the way that we work together. And we’ve been collaborating virtually since really this started, which was at the early stages of the pandemic. So we’re all looking forward to the time for us to get together and start working a little bit more in person.
Jason Yormark: Got you. I love that. What have been some of the biggest challenges for you that you’re facing right now as you kind of roll this out?
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah. I would say biggest challenges is figuring out what you don’t know, right. And a lot of that is operationalizing the business. Some of it is the technology aspects that we didn’t know would be barriers to go in and automate something. And now we find out it’s a little bit more challenging than we anticipated. So it’s this constant evolution of just problem solving, no matter what side you’re on. It’s kind of figuring it out like drinking water from a firehose, essentially. But one thing that I know is that our team is the group to figure it out. And now we’ve gotten to the point where we have the foundation built. We launched the official go to market version of the platform, and now is the fun part where we get to iterate and do product enhancements and things like that and start building out different revenue streams. So I think the hardest part of figuring it out, finding product market fit is behind us. And now is kind of the fun part where we get to evolve the product and move forward.
Jason Yormark: No, I love it. I love what you guys are doing. Super interesting. I’m really looking forward to partnering on some things because I know we’re going to have needs around that. That’s awesome. So outside of that, I would love to ask guests that we have on the show. What’s a piece of technology, a book, a show, what’s something that you recently consumed or used that’s blown you away, or just something that comes top of mind that’s been useful, entertaining or informative for you.
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah, I would say honestly, the most important thing is just surrounding yourself with people that support you honestly. And that’s what’s been fun and energizing for me. Beyond that, there’s your classic. I’m reading a book that changed my life. There’s all that good stuff, but there’s nothing that can replace a good support system to allow you to take a vision and advise you and mentor you in going the right direction. And that’s been what’s the motivating factor behind this, if anything, is just knowing that our team now has essentially a team on top of our core team that’s there to kind of help us, mentor us and help us move forward. So that’s what’s been exciting about it all, and that’s what’s been driving us. But in terms of things that are going on outside of the world of work, there’s not all too much for this guy at this point. We’re just heads down, working towards this thing and trying to see it grow from here.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel that you want to add or share that would round out what we kind of discussed today?
Austin Rosenthal: No, not at all. Other than I’m looking forward to actually getting a little deeper into working with you all and figuring a strategic partnership in some way, shape or form. You all are certainly at the top of our list of a group that we want to work with. So figuring out something there will be really great for both sides, I think.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. And before we close things out, where can people find you and learn more about Lionize?
Yeah. So you can head to Lionize.AI. You can email me at Austin@Lionize.AI, you can text me. My phone number is 561-324-8834. This is what I do.
Jason Yormark: That’s bold!
Hey, it’s all good. It’s fine. Text me. I’ll answer you. But yeah, now you can pretty much find me wherever and where you do, I’m happy to talk.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. Thanks for being on the show and sharing a little bit more about what you guys are building. We’ll have plenty of conversations in the near future, but I appreciate you covering up some time and being a part of the show.
Austin Rosenthal: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Jason Yormark: Awesome. All right. Well, that does it for this week’s episode of Socialistics social media agency stories. Like, Share, subscribe, all that good stuff. Thank you for listening, and we will catch you next episode.
Jason is a 20+ year marketing veteran including time spent at Microsoft overseeing social media for Microsoft Advertising & Office for Mac. Once named to Forbes Power Social Media Influencers List, Jason is the owner and founder of Socialistics.